We all like to throw around the expression “neighborhood restaurant,” but I can think of few that fit the bill as well as this Kirkwood spot tucked tastefully into the shell of an old hardware store. Yet as much as neighbors love it, Sun in My Belly doesn’t resonate too broadly outside the immediate area.
Chef/owner Alison Lueker began the business as a catering company in the late 1990’s and then opened up the space several years later as a cafe specializing in breakfast and lunch.
I paid a couple of a.m. visits after it opened. I have to admit the prettily packaged but stodgy breakfast plates left me cold. I like breakfast joints where you can hear the clanking of a busy kitchen and get a big ol’ plate of egg love, or I want a really excellent cup of coffee and and a pastry worth the splurge. This food fell in between. The dining room — with all its reclaimed wood, battered antique shelving and pastel-painted Mason jars and flower pots — was pretty but felt like a set decoration. (It also reminded me a little of one of those paint-your-crockery places where we used to take our kids.)
Over the years though, I have heard from fans who give the place an enthusiastic thumbs up, if not full-on eye-rolling “omigods.” For the neighborhood, it works well. In particular, they like the “supper club” option — a nightly four-course menu for the reasonable price of $35. The menu changes weekly.
When we went a few weeks ago, the supper club menu started with the phyllo cup above — a puck of warm, gushy goodness that went very well with the bottle of Delirium Tremens we ordered. (The wine and craft beer selection is appealing.)
Next up was a juice-thin spicy watermelon soup garnished with dill — all of it adding up to a slap in the face. I love spice, but this soup actually chafed my upper palate.
The main course brought this salmon burger (right) topped with red-pepper slaw and served with a roasted sweet potato. I think a burger is an odd choice for a four-course menu, and this particular burger was a little too sloppy to attack as a sandwich. But all the components tasted quite good once I dove in with knife and fork. My dessert (of choice from the daily menu) was a terrific caramelized banana trifle.
My wife ordered off the standing menu and settled on this fried chicken piled on top of creamy macaroni and cheese and green beans. You know, it was just one of those massive chicken breasts that really didn’t want to be fried. It sloughed off its breading and bounced chewily back to the prodding of a knife. The veggies redeemed the plate.
But we’ll go ahead and add our upturned thumbs to the crowd-sourced assessment. The two rooms feel warmer at night, the service (from both a primary waiter and a food runner) is great, and the neighborhood turns out.
If you’re in the neighborhood…
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog